For the UK to reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, carbon emissions from homes must be cut. A big part of this reduction must come from the heating industry since most UK homes use gas boilers that are bad for the environment. Heat pumps, which keep homes at a steady temperature using energy from the ground or air, have been hailed as the perfect solution.
But heat pumps have yet to be used sparingly; the UK has set a goal of installing 600,000 annually by 2028. However, official figures show that the “boiler upgrade” scheme, which gives homeowners £5,000-£6,000 off the heat pump cost, had only given out 8,771 vouchers between May 23 and November 30 last year.
Joseph Raftery, who works for Samsung Climate Solutions in the UK, has seen how heat pump technology has changed over the years. He says, “The equipment that UK installers are getting now is a very, very refined piece of equipment.”
Still, surveys from companies like Samsung and Centrica show that there are a few things that keep people from using heat pumps. Concerns about upfront costs and possible disruptions during installation, if radiators, pipes, or insulation need to be changed, are among them.
In June, only 14% of the 4,000 UK adults polled by Public First on behalf of Centrica said they would choose a heat pump to replace their fossil fuel system, even though energy companies and activists say that new technologies are making it easier for homes to switch from boilers to heat pumps, which can be very efficient if they are installed.
The costs are also going down. Last year, Octopus Energy started a pilot programme with Lloyds Banking Group to offer heat pumps to Halifax mortgage holders for as little as £2,000. Centrica, which owns British Gas, said it would install heat pumps for as little as £2,999, but only if government grant money was used.
But some new ideas need to come from the government. Most countries in Europe with the lowest electricity and gas prices ratio have the highest heat pump adoption rates. Since the UK adds more taxes to electricity prices than gas prices, it has unusually expensive electricity compared to gas. Ministers have been thinking about how to fix this problem.
Costs, skills, and training are other things that make it hard to speed up installation rates. There are only about 3,000 trained heat pump engineers in the UK, but the country needs at least 27,000 in the next two years to reach its goals. Installers must ensure that the pump is put in and that most of its heat is recovered.
“The product is ready and up to scratch,” says Will Rivers, an expert on heat pumps at the non-profit consulting firm The Carbon Trust. What needs to be improved are the installers’ training, standards, and skills, as well as the number of the best engineers, to make sure that these heat pumps are designed, installed, and run correctly.
Ministers in the UK have acknowledged the problems and put £60 million into a “heat pump ready” programme to help speed up the rollout. Chris Skidmore, the Minister for the Net Zero of the UK government, said that the government should “regulate now” to ban new and replacement gas boilers by “at the latest” 2033. This would “turbocharge” the use of heat pumps.